The following is part of a series of blog posts addressing a number of areas related to developing a training program for RAs and student staff members working within a residential curriculum model. Posts included in this series are:
RA training does not just end with the opening of the residence halls in the Fall, but is an effort that continues throughout the academic year. A curricular approach implores us to scaffold and sequence learning, and this concept is equally valid when applied to RA training. Thinking of the entire year as a training and learning opportunity can transform your staff culture into a more learning-centric one and lead to a more focused and responsive training program.
The curricular concepts of assessment and review for continuous improvement are also highly applicable to RA Training. Reviewing learning assessments from training efforts can help you identify areas that may require changes to your pedagogy or if further training in a given area is required. Utilizing a review process can aid in honing learning objectives and allow for revisions in response to changing student needs or institutional priorities.
Deconstructing Fall RA Training
Time is a finite resource and spending two weeks on training during one of the busiest times of the academic year is a luxury few institutions can afford. This is where an intentionally planned RA training curriculum can help. When applying curricular concepts to your training efforts, it may be useful to think of the entire academic year as a training opportunity. Some topics may not need to be covered during a Fall training and can wait until a later, and perhaps more appropriate, time. Other topics may not be best addressed or need to be addressed in a large group format.
Just as with a curricular approach, use student learning as a starting point for your RA training efforts. Too often we may begin planning for training by starting with a schedule. This is similar to how a program models assumes every learning opportunity must be a program. Rather than starting with a schedule and filling in time slots, start with what you want your RAs to learn. Identify your learning goals and outcomes. Then, after identifying your learning objectives, determine the best strategies and formats to teach these concepts. Only after this occurs should you begin crafting your schedule. Taking it a step further, you could deconstruct the concept of a schedule altogether. Not all training needs to occur in a two week span in the Fall, and all training sessions need not be constructed as a lecture.
Diverse Strategies and Just-In-Time Training
When thinking of diverse strategies to engage your RAs, think of all of the different ways in which you can engage them. These strategies could include various ways of teaching, such as through readings, group projects, lectures, or experiential activities. It could also include different formats, such as during 1-on-1 meetings with supervisors, in-hall staff meetings, or in large all-staff gatherings. By tailoring your strategies to maximize your desired learning, you can create a more intentional training and one that is more engaging for RAs.
There may also be benefit in reflecting how “just in time” training may be a more effective way of engaging your staff. The concept of “just in time” means that training is provided at the times appropriate to when staff members will utilize those knowledge and skills. Luckily, with a residential curriculum in place, you’ve already sequenced and set out a calendar for student learning throughout the year. Let this guide your training efforts around strategies and facilitation guides. Furthermore, your learning goals and outcomes were constructed from theory and research. Sharing this knowledge with your staff members at the appropriate times throughout the year can help deepen your RA’s understanding of their students’ learning and developmental journeys in a way that is appropriate to the time and context of the academic year.
A Training Timeline for Continuous Improvement
Much like your training efforts should be continuous and year-round, your planning for these efforts should also be continuous and year-round. Establishing this cycle can help you reach towards a more responsive, iterative training and development program and one that works towards continuous improvement. The following provides an example of how you may think about organizing yourself:
- Form a committee or other working group.
- Review assessment data from just completed training.
- Identify gaps in staff knowledge from prior training to establish needs.
- Revise ongoing training schedule as necessary.
- Revisit training goal/outcome cascade for overall training efforts.
- Outline upcoming training schedule with learning outcomes for each strategy/session.
- Assign leads for facilitation guide development.
- Begin contacting partners, assign internal staff as liaisons, and develop session learning outcomes as starting point for discussion.
- Meet with partners to review and revise facilitation guide.
- Finalize facilitation guides and materials needed for Winter training
- Finalize any assessment tools needed
Effective RA training programs for a residential curriculum, utilize the principles of curriculum in their design. This includes developing a training program that is scaffolded and sequenced, and one that utilizing assessment and review towards continuous improvement. Much as a curricular approach require a complete rethink of residential education practice, your RA training efforts need this same level of deconstruction in order to be effective.
- What are the learning goals and outcomes for your RA Training efforts? How can these guide the selection of your strategies and formats?
- How can you develop a review and continuous improvement process for RA Training and development?